January 04, 2017

Rostropovich: a chronology of the legendary cellist's life

'The Cellist of the Century' box set will be released in March to mark the 90th anniversary of his birth.

The full timeline and an extensive biographical essay will be available in the book that makes up part of The Cellist of the Century box set, out 24 March.

More information: www.rostropovich2017.com

1927 – 27 MARCH
Rostropovich was born in Baku, Azerbaijan. His father Leopold Vitoldovich was then teaching cello at the Baku Conservatory — Slava was later to say of Leopold that he was a brilliant cellist, but “a very modest and unassuming person. His mother, Sofiya Nikolayevna Fedotova-Rostropovich, taught piano at the same establishment.

Rostropovich’s parents decided to move to Moscow with Slava and his older sister Veronika, so that both children could begin serious musical studies. With no money to speak of, they ended up in a tiny apartment (Slava slept on a camp bed under the piano).

Slava began classes at the Gnessin Academy, where his father had obtained a teaching post.

Slava broke his wrist as a result of an accident in the communal kitchen shared by his and several other families; it took months to heal. A year later, when he did well in his exams, one of his teachers said to Leopold, “If it would make all our pupils play as well as your son, perhaps we should consider breaking their wrists too!”

That same year, Slava was introduced to Vissarion Shebalin, future president of the Moscow Composers’ Union, who was impressed by his talent for…composition.

1940 (SUMMER)
Slava made his public debut in an open-air concert conducted by Ilya Stupel in the Ukrainian resort of Slavyansk. He played Saint-Saëns’s Cello Concerto No.1.

1941 – 22 JUNE
German troops invaded Russia. Slava and Veronika were evacuated to Penza, 375 miles south of Moscow, before the family moved on to Orenburg, where Leningrad’s Maly Theatre had set up its temporary home.

Leopold Vitoldovich died. Slava took over teaching his classes. He also gave a number of concerts, earning 70 roubles for each performance. “Ten concerts, and I had earned a kilogram of butter…”

Slava began classes with his uncle, Semyon Matveevich Kozolupov, at the
Moscow Conservatory.

1944 (SUMMER)
Slava continued his studies at the Conservatory, moving straight up from the second to the fifth year!

The first USSR National Music Competition was held since 1937, with sections for piano, violin and cello. Slava won first prize in the latter, having performed Myaskovsky’s Concerto in the final round. This choice of a contemporary work provoked considerable controversy. He was threatened and told he wouldn’t be safe if he went out alone at night.

Slava travelled abroad for the first time, to take part in the Prague International Music Competition. He and Fyodor Luzanov were declared joint winners of the first prize.

Rostropovich won first prize at the Budapest International Festival.

1951 – 14 and 21 JANUARY
He gave his first performances of the complete Bach Solo Cello Suites in the Small Hall at the Moscow Conservatory.

1951 – JUNE
Along with David Oistrakh, Emil Gilels and ballerina Galina Ulanova, Slava was chosen by Stalin to appear in the West.

1952 – 18 FEBRUARY
Slava gave the world premiere of Prokofiev’s Sinfonia concertante with the Moscow Youth Orchestra conducted by Sviatoslav Richter. Rostropovich and Richter later joined forces to perform and record the Beethoven sonata cycle.

1955 – MAY
In Prague, Slava met Galina Vishnevskaya, star of the Bolshoi, and was immediately smitten. They went on to have two daughters: Olga, herself a cellist, and Elena, a pianist.

Rostropovich was awarded the Lenin Prize.

1968 – 12 JANUARY
He made his official conducting debut in Moscow, taking the helm for a
production of Eugene Onegin.

1970 – 25 JULY
World premiere of Henri Dutilleux’s cello concerto Tout un monde lointain… at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. Serge Baudo conducted the Orchestre de Paris.

World premiere of Witold Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto in London.
The open letter written by Rostropovich to the Soviet press reached
Western Europe.

1974 – 10 MAY
Rostropovich gave his last concert before leaving the USSR.

1977 – 28 JUNE–3 JULY
The inaugural Rostropovich Competition took place in La Rochelle. The jury included such prominent figures as Lutosławski, Dutilleux, Xenakis and Berio.

1978 – 14 MARCH
Leonid Brezhnev signed an edict of the Praesidium of the Supreme Soviet,
stripping Slava and Galina of their citizenship.

1980 – 27 FEBRUARY
Rostropovich and his wife gave a free concert in honour of their friend Andrei Sakharov at the Salle Pleyel in Paris. Among the celebrities present were Arthur Rubinstein and future French president François Mitterrand.

Rostropovich became artistic director of the Rencontres musicales d’Évian
chamber music festival, attended annually by leading artists and a selection of the crowned heads of Europe.

1989 – 11 NOVEMBER
He travelled to Berlin and, sitting in front of the newly fallen Wall, played extracts from Bach’s Solo Suites — the Sarabande in C minor and Bourrée in C major.

1990 – 16 JANUARY
Mikhail Gorbachev signed a decree reinstating Slava and Galina’s citizenship.

1991 – MARCH
Rostropovich recorded the complete Bach Suites at Vézelay Abbey in Burgundy.

1997 – 27 MARCH
The cellist’s 70th birthday was marked by an official celebration at the
Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, which was followed by a reception at the Élysée Palace.

2005 – 19 JUNE
In Vienna, Slava gave his last premiere — Penderecki’s Largo for cello and
orchestra, conducted by Seiji Ozawa.

2006 – 3 DECEMBER
Rostropovich conducted his last concert in Tokyo in Sumida Triphony Hall with the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra — a Shostakovich programme to mark the centenary of his friend’s birth.

2007 – 27 MARCH
Vladimir Putin hosted a reception at the Kremlin to celebrate Slava’s 80th birthday. Though very frail by then, the guest of honour was able to say a few words to express his emotions. That night he was fêted as a Russian hero.

2007 – 27 APRIL
Slava died at the Blokhin Cancer Research Centre in Moscow.

-Timeline by Elizabeth Wilson